Heritage advocates slam NatGeo writer, DENR probe
Why just ivory? The question was raised by heritage advocate Val Sandiego about the just-started government inquiry into ivory icons in Cebu in the wake of a National Geographic Magazine story on the illegal global ivory trade.
“Why only ivory? Ivory is just one topic.” said Sandiego. He asked why the focus isn’t on the cutting of trees or the way sea turtles (pawikan) are cooked for food?
“That’s the problem: we don’t act on things when there is no international attention,” Sandiego said.
He said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should not just focus on ivory pieces.
Sandiego, whose renowned Sandiego Dance Troupe performs during the Sinulog and various cultural-religious events, said he used to own 30 to 40 ivory pieces of art.
But he said they were destroyed, along with his entire antique collection, when his house in Capitol Site burned down in 2002.
He said the ivory pieces were all heirlooms, much older than 1981, the year the Philippines became a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Ivory is a prized material for religious icons because of its durability, he explained.
Sandiego owns a Spanish-period ancestral house in the old Parian district, a tourist attraction which displays part of his current antique collection, mostly wood furniture and religious icons, ceramics and delicate glassware.
Sandiego said he’s been a collector of religious images since he was three years old, a passion he shares with Msgr. Cristobal Garcia.
He said Garcia inspired him to keep his faith alive after his family home was devastated by fire, wiping out a collection of Sto. Niños and other religious statues he accumulated over the years.
Sandiego was one of those intereviewed by NatGeo for the October cover story “Ivory Worship”.
The choreographer said the writer Bryan Christy was welcomed warmly only to later dismay several Cebuanos he interviewed with an article that implicated Msgr. Garcia in the illegal ivory trade and placed Cebu in a bad light.
“We deserve an apology from Christy,” said Sandiego.
He said Christy introduced himself as “Paul” in visits to Cebu from 2011 and early this year, saying he wanted to write about the devotion to the Sto. Nino de Cebu.
“With all our hospitality, how could Paul (Christy) do that to us? If he cares for elephants, how much more should he consider us, humans? We are created in the image and likeness of God,” Sandiego told Cebu Daily News.
“He was just using us (heritage advocates) to pinpoint one person, Msgr. Cris. It’s unfair. I consider Msgr. Cris a person very close to us,” he said.
Sandiego said he met Christy four times. He said Christy attended the activities of the Fiesta Señor and the Sinulog in 2011 and 2012.
Sandiego said he had dinner with Christy in Parian where he introduced himself as a NatGeo writer.
”Before, we had our doubts about him but we thought this could be a breakthrough. At least we could show the rest of the world about Cebu as the cradle of Christianity and that we express our faith through devotion to the Sto. Niño,” he said.
Sandiego said he was interviewed by Christy about the devotion to the Sto. Nino through dance.
“We didn’t expect these things to happen because his focus was on the whole activitiy of the Sto. Niño celebration. (The magazine article) put Cebu in a bad light before the rest of the world ,” he said.
Sandiego said Christy attend the “Hubo”, the ritual changing of clothes of the Sto. Niño last January at the Nazarene shrine where Msgr. Garcia is the rector in Cansojong , Talisay City.
He said they were uncertain if Christy was a Catholic, but he saw the writer kneel down and receive communion, a scene Christy describes in his article.
“We answered his questions with all our heart, with all sincerity, and honesty so he could really cover everything about the Sto. Niño. The damage has been done. He should apologize,” said Sandiego.
Historian and heritage advocate Trizer Dale Mansueto also believed that while it didn’t affect her personally, Christy should apologize to whoever was harmed in the publication of his story.
“To monsignor (Cris Garcia) because of the damage he has done. He should have tempered his story,” Mansueto said.
Mansueto was one of the heritage advocates who were interviewed by Christy.
Social scientist Zona Amper of the University of San Carlos sociology and anthropology department, said Christy should apologize only for “non-disclosusre of his objectives.”
But with what he found out on Ivory in Cebu apology may not be necessary. “I don’t think so. It was a researched report,” she added. With Correspondent Jessa Chrisna Marie J. Agua
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